Anticipating loss

Over the last 6-8 months my nan has been seriously ill. In August she was in hospital and i got a phone call from my parents saying that it looked like it was the end, and within a few days she would die. I spoke to her for what I thought would be the last time on the phones but contrary to expectations she rallied and after several more very serious relapses she’s now at home, but is going to be on a breathing machine at night for the rest of her life. This could keep her alive for months or years, even another decade, they have no idea, so it feels very much like I’m waiting and worrying about something that may not even happen of another ten years, but I can’t rationalise it as something i’ve got to accept. She can’t really walk or do anything for herself - she hasn’t been upstairs in her house for a year now and hasn’t left the house since Christmas. She’s on very strong painkillers, and physically it’s just palliative care I believe, not so much an if, but a when, but mentally (apart from sometimes morphine making her a bit ‘fuzzy’) she’s still very sharp and knows exactly what’s going on.

I’m finding it really hard to deal with the idea of her being stuck in a chair completely helpless for the rest of her life, especially as she was so active in her younger years. I live a long way away from home (7 hour drive) and I want to see her as much as I can, so I drive home every few months and see her, which is both nice and also not so nice - the last time i visited she cried and said she was terrified my grandad (83 and doing most of her care - my Mum helps when she can but she works full time and the NHS carer can only come in twice a week) wouldn’t come home when he was visiting the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. I’ve never seen my nan cry before (I’m 23) and am so used to her being stoical and strong - she’s the kind of nan who knew just what to say to make you feel better when you were upset, and was never cross, or upset herself. It really upset me to see her so helpless - it feels like she’s just existing, and not really living.

I also feel very responsible for my mum (nan is her mother), as she’s in an awful position where she’s watching her own mother just ‘fall apart’ for want of a better phrase. I want to be with her, both to support her emotionally, but also to help with things like cooking, cleaning, driving things around and generally just being there, but she and my dad don’t want me to ‘stop living’ my life, as my Nan wouldn’t want me to, which I understand, but if I didn’t go home whenever I can, I’d only have seen her twice in 2017 and not at all this year, so I want see her as much as possible. it’s hard - I’m so lucky that all four of my grandparents are still alive and I’m extremely close to all of them, and it feels like I’m suddenly aware of how old they are (youngest is just about to turn 81), so this is something i’ve not dealt with before, and up until the last year or so it’s not been something I’ve had to dwell on (I’ve always been aware that they wouldn’t be around forever but it’s really ‘hit me’ more recently). My other grandma has Alzheimers and I try and visit them as much as well - physically they are far more able, but it’s so horrible seeing my grandpa trying to cope with her memory loss. I went up to see them last month and he seemed for the first time to me like a very lonely old man. He was showing me photos from when he was young and talking about how he was the only one left now which is horrible - I can’t even begin to imagine what that feels like. Sorry for the very long post, I’m new to this forum but I wanted somewhere to say what I’m thinking anonymously where I won’t upset either of my parents. I love my grandparents very much so don’t know how to deal with what’s coming - I know it’s something that happens to everyone and it’s part of the ‘natural’ order of things but that doesn’t make it feel any easier.

I’m seriously considering moving back home (or nearer) so that I can make the most of the time they have left, but I’m also aware that they wouldn’t want to think I’d made a big change like that just because I’m scared of them dying and not having spent more time with them. I was just wondering if anyone has any experience/stories of how they dealt with this? Loss seems so personal but also universal at the same time so if anyone wouldn’t mind sharing how they coped/are coping or even if like me you’re not really, then thank you. I really don;t think i’d regret seeing as much of them as i can now, as opposed to just carrying on trying to pretend I’m happy not doing so, for the sake of ‘living my own life’ - they’ are a huge part of my life so it’s not as easy as ‘don’t stop living yourself!’.

Again really sorry to ramble and i don’t think i’ve explained myself very well but it was good to just type out what I’m feeling.

Hi KM, I am sorry to read about your grandparents, all four of them. This is something my own grandchildren will have to deal with later on, so I shall be very interested in reply’s to your post. I personal think these are your choices and yes you have been thinking a lot about what you can do. It’s also just how easy or hard they to do. Thank you for your post because I know I am not the only person who will be interested in the response. You sound so gentle and kind.
Blessings S

Hi KM

All your grandparents are very lucky to have such a caring and compassionate grandchild. X

You have obviously thought about spending more time with your nan. I have wonderful memories of my Grandma and grannie and learnt so much from them even though I was quite young when I lost all my grandparents.

I completely understand anticipatory grief. My dad died May 2017 and 6 weeks later my mum was given 6 weeks to live. Devastated is an understatement. My mum is still battling on but for 9 months I put my life on hold to care for her at home. She is now in a nursing home as it got too difficult for her at home but I know I will never regret spending time with her.

I also know that your grandparents would not want you to put your life on hold. How about a compromise and taking a bit of a holiday to spend more time with your nan? Write down all the things you want to tell her or ask her too. Time is so precious so without stopping your own life, you can still spend quality time with your family hopefully?

This is just an idea from a stranger but I hope it helps. Your mum must be so proud of you thinking in such a mature and selfless way.

Oh, and if it helps, the love you feel for your nan will never die which will give you comfort I hope.

Ann xx

Thank you so much for your reply Ann, and I’m so sorry for the loss of your father, and your mother’s illness. It’s very comforting to hear other people’s experiences particularly of anticipatory grief and know that I’m not alone!

Just writing my thoughts down and hearing other people’s thougts really have helped me think things through a bit - it’s about a balance I suppose of grieving for what’s going to happen but also enjoying the time left if that makes sense? And your last line really hit home, I’d never really thought of it that way so thank you!

I hope you find comfort in your own advice too, and thank you for taking the time to reply, I really appreciate it.
X

Thank you for replying Susie it really helps to hear other people’s thoughts, especially from your different perspective as a grandparent rather than a grandchild. I sometimes get a bit wrapped up in my own feelings and forget what my nan must be thinking too, so thank you for reminding me of that. And I’m glad you’ll find the replies to this interesting I think it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only person to feel like this even if it feels like it sometimes. X

Hi KM

You’ve brought tears to my eyes. Your point about getting comfort from my own words has made me realise I use this site just to ramble and get my own mixed up thoughts in black and white and it does help.

It is easy to give advice I guess but the truth is we are all muddling through this grief journey together and you hit the nail on the head about trying to get a balance.

What I have learnt this last year is that nobody can take the past away from you and for that i am thankful. Death takes the future with a person away, but not the past or the love. It also makes you realise you only really have now…

Take care and enjoy your precious time with your grandparents but make sure you have lots of stories to share with them about what you are doing in your life too. That will make them happy.

Ann xx

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